DAVIE, Fla. — You’d think Clyde Gates would be concerned. The Dolphins have one of the worst receiving corps in the NFL, and Gates isn’t even a lock to make the team.
But the second-year man doesn’t seem too worried.
“They can say what they want to say,’’ Gates said about critics maligning Miami’s ball catchers. “They doubted Jesus, didn’t they?’’
Perhaps divine intervention will be needed for the Dolphins’ receivers to come around. Other than veteran stalwart Davone Bess, nobody really has stepped up in training camp or in the first three preseason games, all Miami losses.
How ugly was it in the last preseason game, a 23-6 loss on Friday to Atlanta? The Dolphins dropped seven passes, although three were by tight end Anthony Fasano, who supposedly is reliable.
Miami has one more preseason game, Wednesday at Dallas, to try to sort matters out. To say it’s a pivotal game for a bunch of wide receivers would be an understatement.
“They haven’t helped matters,’’ Miami offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said of the 10 receivers other than Bess vying for what likely will be five other roster spots. “I wish they would say, ‘Hey, I’m the guy’ and jump up on the table by having a knockout performance, and that hasn’t necessarily happened just yet.
“I think we’ll keep Bess. I can pretty much guarantee that, but there’s only one of him. We need to fill in the other spots. We’ve got some good guys. It’s just who we think will be there for the long term, and who’s going to be there every day … We do have some tough decisions to make, and I don’t know how much more clarity we’re going to have after the last ball game. But hopefully we will.”
The Dolphins have only three receivers who have established anything resembling a name for themselves in the NFL. Bess has 260 catches in four seasons, Brian Hartline has hauled in 109 balls in three years and Legudu Naanee has 107 catches in five seasons.
But Hartline has been sidelined all of training camp with a calf injury, and it’s unsure when he’ll be back. And Naanee, a free-agent signing during the offseason, was given the dubious distinction by ProFootballFocus.com as being the worst active receiver in the NFL.
Of the other eight receivers on the roster, only three have had an NFL regular-season catch, and they’ve combined for a mere 14. Those three are Marlon Moore, Roberto Wallace and Gates. The five with no career grabs are Julius Pruitt and Chris Hogan and rookies B.J. Cunningham, Richard Matthews and Jeff Fuller.
“We’re young. If we let (criticism) be a distraction, it can be a distraction,’’ Bess said. “The best thing about this league and about young players is opportunity. So I think this is a good opportunity for a young guy to step up and let their presence be known.’’
The Dolphins are still waiting for that to happen. Making matters even more anxious is they have a rookie quarterback in Ryan Tannehill who might have trouble with guys getting open and might have to endure dropped passes when they do.
Miami last year had a Pro Bowl receiver in Brandon Marshall, who caught 81 passes for 1,214 yards. But Marshall, who had his share of off-the-field problems, was dealt last March to Chicago for a pair of third-round picks.
“Not really,’’ Miami coach Joe Philbin said Sunday when asked if he had regrets about the team having traded Marshall. “I think you make the decisions with the information, the best decisions you can make at the time you make them, and you have to look forward.’’
Trying to somewhat fill the void left by Marshall, the Dolphins brought to training camp aging former star Chad Johnson. But Johnson didn’t pan out, being waived two weeks ago after being arrested on a charge of domestic violence.
So the Dolphins continue to search.
“It’s not like, all of a sudden, we’ve become concerned about this,’’ Philbin said about the trouble at receiver. “It’s been something, it’s been a focal point. It’s something we’ve been working on. It’s been an area where we feel like we’ve provided a lot of opportunity for guys and we’re not at the stage we want to be …. We have additional roster moves to make. Some guys, it’s make or break.”
Alongside Bess, the other projected starter is Naanee, who did catch 44 balls last season for Carolina, although his average was just 10.6 yards per reception. In the preseason, Naanee has shown little, grabbing two balls for 20 yards. He had a drop against the Falcons.
“It’s frustrating,’’ Naanee said of all the balls the Dolphins dropped. “It’s definitely something we can’t have in our room, on our team. But it doesn’t concern me. The guys we have, we know we can catch the ball. We do it every day. We got to make it translate from practice to game.’’
So that’s another Miami receiver who doesn’t seem overly worried. But the coaches are concerned, and some guys will be losing their jobs by Friday’s final roster cutdown deadline. The only problem is the Dolphins can’t fire all their receivers other than Bess.